Dinner parties are making a long-awaited comeback. Think about it - it's a party with a perfect formula. There is music, delicious food, special drinks, your people, your space and your rules. I'm not talking about a casual, cozy catch-up at home. Instead, I'm talking about stepping things up and making it a night to remember.
This month, I have two dinner parties planned to celebrate a very special occasion at home. Looking back on the dinner parties I've hosted or attended over the years, I can't help but think about what made some parties better than others. Here are my best tips for what has worked for me when throwing a memorable dinner party at home.
1. The Invitations
Having an invitation sets the stage for your party from the start. No group emails. It should be a mystery who else is coming; let your guests be intrigued. Include an RSVP, a note about the dress code, what you are celebrating and details about the event.
2. The Guests
One of the most important aspects of planning a get-together is choosing who to invite. The number of guests at a dinner party should be no less than eight. That is large enough to be paired off in small groups and small enough to have a single conversation. Not all attendees should be friends; that's too predictable. This is about planning an interesting and memorable dinner party. The conversation will be lively and engaging if you invite people who have never met before. Similarly, not everyone should be strangers. That is too uncomfortable. Instead, seek to strike a balance between people who complement each other and those who will spend time getting to know each other.
3. The Dress Code
Make it a night to remember and a night for people to remember you in that outfit! What's the fun in having gorgeous clothes if you don't take the time to wear them? Save your jeans for any other day. I think people like dressing up, especially when meeting new friends. Also, dressing up can be a way of honoring your guests and enhances everything about your special night. Tip: Make sure you note the dress code on your invitation. I once overheard a heated conversation between a host and their very upset (and under-dressed) guest at a holiday party.
4. The Theme
A great theme can take a party to the next level, but if you are looking for something more subtle, bring in a softer version of your chosen theme. Think about a small touch to enhance the tone of the invitations, decor, food, music, and drinks. It will help put you and your guests in a place where you understand it's not just another night at home.
5. The Welcome
They say people will never forget how you made them feel, so get to the door quickly and greet your guests with a genuine smile that reflects you are happy to see them. According to Vanessa Van Edwards from Scienceofpeople.com, "The First 5 Minutes… is something people remember most – just like an event first impression." So make it count! I am not a big fan of asking people to take their shoes off. For many women, it can ruin their outfit and even their night, especially when a pedicure is long overdue. Let people come in as they choose and get a drink in their hand ASAP.
6. The Music
Music can set the tone for your party and guests at different points of the evening, so use this knowledge to your advantage during arrival, dinner and after your meal. The right playlist can lift everyone's spirits and get them in the right mood to enjoy the night.
7. The Food
Personally, I enjoy cooking and serving my guests a home-cooked meal that is close to my heart. Something that says a little bit about my heritage, my life, and, yes, my skills in the kitchen. My goal is to make the evening memorable, and that extends to the meal itself.
Occasionally, I am driven to hire a professional caterer because I want everything to be perfect. Depending on the formality of the evening, I often prefer the help rather than working on the many moving parts required to host a successful party and serve a hot meal. Whatever you choose, this is your night with your party and your rules. Anything goes.
8. The Tablescape
Use your fine china, crystal and even the silver tea set passed on from your grandmother. This is the occasion you've been waiting for! Keeping things simple yet elegant is the key. Make the table glow with candlelight using tapered candles and let blooms cascade over the table in loose arrangements. Ensure your centerpieces are low, so your guests do not have to play peek-a-boo between them. Lastly, use place cards. This will take the awkwardness out of where your guests should sit. You can separate couples and mix them between newcomers, shy ones and extroverts. In my experience, couples see it as a relief to not be seen as a unit for once and shining on their own.
9. The Ambience
Making guests feel welcome and creating a space where they feel attractive is an excellent way to ensure they enjoy your party. People who feel good are less self-conscious, relaxed and enjoy themselves and others more. Decor is appreciated, but when planning your party, lighting is the most important of all. Nothing ruins a mood more than harsh lighting. Dim overhead lights and fill the space with candles. There is nothing more glamorous and flattering than candlelight.
10. The Twist
Add a little irreverent spin on the night. This could be a game, funny customized wine charms, or even an unexpected dessert like s'mores at your fire pit. Anything to engage guests and make your event a night to remember.
Photo Credit: Athena Calderone eye-swoon.com